National park fire destroys homes, sheds

AFTER “a hell of a week”, NSW's bushfire crisis is not over yet, the state’s acting Premier says.

A fire in Warrumbungle National Park, west of Coonabarabran in the central west, destroyed at least 33 homes and damaged the Siding Spring Observatory yesterday.

Fifty farm sheds were also lost along with livestock, fencing and farm machinery.

It is one of 146 blazes across the state that are testing almost 800 firefighters.

The Warrumbungle fire burnt through 40,000 hectares after beginning its destructive rampage on Sunday.

Yesterday it still had a 100km front, although no further properties were immediately under threat.

Rural Fire Service (RFS) Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said a wind shift at the worst possible time had created “perfect storm” conditions for a fire that burnt with a ferocity not seen in years.

“There was just absolutely no stopping that fire,” he said.

Acting Premier Andrew Stoner said while a subsequent wind change had removed the threat to the town of Coonabarabran it could threaten settlements to the north of the national park.

More than 110 people were evacuated to the Tattersalls Hotel in Baradine and a relocation centre was established at the Coonabarabran Bowling Club, with residents warned it was not safe to return home.

Mr Stoner said it was “miraculous” the main building and Australia’s largest telescope at the Siding Spring Observatory were not destroyed although the Australian National University (ANU) facility was damaged in the fire.

ANU acting vice-chancellor Erik Lithander said the observatory would be closed for two weeks while a full assessment was undertaken.

Dr Lithander said 18 staff were evacuated from the site on Sunday afternoon and while they were safe, there were fears some had lost their nearby homes in the blaze.

At least five buildings at the observatory had been damaged significantly, including the lodge used to accommodate visitors at the site, the visitors’ centre, a number of residential cottages used by staff and a number of sheds.

“An initial visual assessment shows that there does not seem to be significant damage to the buildings that house the telescopes,” Dr Lithander told reporters in Canberra. “We do not yet know what impact the extreme heat or the ash might have on the telescopes themselves.”

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